Monday, February 12, 2018

Readers place

If a 50 cent purchase keeps me occupied for at least a month I’d say that’s a good deal. My favorite spot to visit during my work lunch is a used bookstore next to Thrall Library in Middletown. Run entirely by volunteers, this shop isn’t a musty-smelling room overflowing with piles of auto manuals and copies upon copies of the classics. It’s organized by genres like travel, economics, law, gender issues, and more. I always see best-sellers, hot topics, and current magazines.

The store regularly accepts donations and a curated section of fun new arrivals sits on a shelf near the entrance. Prices range from .10 for National Geographic magazines to $1 for hardcovers. Magazines are .25 and softcovers go for .50. I picked up a biography: Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki, about Suzuki who authored the modern spiritual classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. The store next to Middletown Thrall Library which first opened in 1843 as a main station on the Erie Railroad.

Thrall Library Use Bookstore:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Power of the invisible

Standing on the shore of the ocean so many possibilities come to mind: swimming, fishing, shell collecting, boating. But there is a body even more vast and accessible than the sea: an ocean of air. The healing properties of sound were the focus of Sound Immersion, an interactive event at the Tibetan Center in Kingston on Saturday, January 20.

Facilitated by Paul Campbell, participants experienced how sound produces physical, spiritual, mental and emotional healing effects. With a gong as his primary instrument Paul performed with tuning forks, chimes, a shaman drum, Tibetan and crystal singing bowls, and other devices. The two big gongs are from China and one is over 100 years old. “The large one is from Wuhan, China, it’s well-seasoned and we are best friends, we collaborate,” said Paul. “The other is a Wind gong that has a more compact sustain and swifter sizzling crash. To add other sound variations we have a selection of mallets each inviting a different sound.” Also used was a Rav Vast, a metal hand drum from Russia which evolved from the Hang Drum that generates a sound that was popular in sci-fi movie soundtracks.  “I seek unusual clear sounds and go through entire selections to find the unique instrument in each one out of the lot,” said Paul, whose career is a fusion of Percussion, CranialSacral Balancing, Polarity Therapy, Tibetan Buddhism and Product Design.

At the beginning of the session Paul told participants they’ll likely experience sounds they’ve never heard before and instructed them to avoid trying to identify or make an association with them. The sound immersion isn’t a musical experience. There is no fixed rhythm for the brain to search for and follow, forcing it to relax. Instead of seeking entertainment, we instead allow for “entrainment,” or the changing of brainwave frequencies. The session took place in the Tibetan Center’s colorful art-filled community space and Paul pointed out a wall hanging depicting a central Om, the symbol for the familiar sound forged by the gong. Small “fractals” markings that are always moving in a spiral surround the symbol and emanate outwards.

Periods of intentional silence were included and participants were encouraged to embrace those the same as the more prominent sounds. Paul sounded bells to signal the start and end of the 1-1/2 hour period, similar to how a sound can be used to define a meditation session. The experience included a 10-minute silent break in the middle.

“The unique beautiful benefits of Sound are that everyone’s experience, during and after the session, feels totally unique to them. So real, so deep, so profound they cannot imagine anyone else’s experiences matching theirs,” said Paul. “Quieting the left brain is essential for an amazing sound trip. It can be challenging to let our left brains go. Its history fights the effort, they struggle, think harder, keep fixing until there is nothing for them to do like with immersion of sound that is not music or rhythm or has no beats to count and then Leftie says OK nothing here for me I'll veg out and Righty says Ahh now I am free to fly.....back to my youth, memories, good stuff.”

The fractals depicted in the room’s wall hanging radiate outwards in all directions without end, representing how the sound we experienced isn’t intended to end upon leaving the room at the end of the session, but it instead ripples out into the rest of life.

Tibetan Center:
More on sound gong baths:

Sunday, December 31, 2017


“The Barbarian hopes — and that is the mark of him, that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort, but he will not be at pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is ever marvelling that civilization, should have offended him with priests and soldiers.... In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this, that he cannot make: that he can befog and destroy but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilization exactly that has been true.

We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Watershed tour

What’s in our water and where does it come from? Answers to these questions and more were the focius of the illustrated at watershed tour in Newburgh on November 4. Led by Peter Smith of the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, the goup of over 20 participants toured almost a dozen stops of the local watershed area. A watershed is a catchment area of land where precipitation collects and drains into a shared outlet such as a river or reservoir. The path, if not protected, makes water sources vulnerable to contamination. This area, which supplies the City of Newburgh’s water, is located in a heavily industrialized section of the neighboring Town of Newburgh and the City’s lack of ownership limits oversight.  

Tour stops included the large water source Washington Lake and a water gatehouse on Route 300 next to Adams Fairacre Farms. We toured an industrial site off Route 17K which feeds into Washington Lake, and followed it downstream to the wetlands near Hampton Inn and the NYS Thruway. The highway runs right through a wetland that drains into Patton Brook. Next was a section of Orr Avenue behind Cosimo’s restaurant, a marshy spot behind Wal-mart, and a hilltop view of Washington Lake adjacent to Route 300 which showed the road at its lowest point and its storm drains as they filter into the lake.

It was interesting to learn that though the wetland that encompasses our watershed area would have been sizeable enough to warrant protection if it hadn’t been broken into smaller areas by manmade boundaries like highways. Peter demonstrated each stop’s features in digestible language and helped everyone track the path water takes from the watershed to our kitchen faucet.

Newburgh Clean Water Project:
Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance:

Late fall Hudson

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Intro to mushrooms

In 1991 German tourists hiking in the Otztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border came upon a corpse sticking out of a glacier. The well-preserved natural mummy, later nicknamed “Otzi,” died between 3239 and 3105 BC. Among his belongings were two species of mushrooms with leather strings through them: birch fungus known for medicinal qualities, and a variety known as a “tinder conk” in what is believed to be a firelighting kit.

Otzi’s connection to mushrooms was just one of the engaging facts that emerged from Fungi for Resiliency; Intro to Mushrooms & Fungi earlier this month in Newburgh. Hosted by Smugtown Mushrooms at the Moon infospace on Liberty Street, the weekday workshop was packed with attendees with all different levels of experience in mushrooms.

Facilitator Olga from Rochester-based Smugtown Mushrooms taught the group about mushroom biology and lifecycles, ecological roles, growing and cooking, common misconceptions, as well as medical and industry uses. Chaga tea, made from a dense black mushroom that resembles burnt charcoal, was passed around.

What is a mushroom? In the past 100 years we’ve learned, contrary to popular belief, that they’re more similar to animals than to plants. They can’t make their own food, they need sunlight, and mushrooms must breathe oxygen. In school they’re tossed in lesson plans with the plant kingdom  because we’re simply more resonant with their resemblance to plant life. A common misconception about mushrooms is that you cannot get sick from simply touching a poisonous variety—it must be ingested.

Olga reviewed the ecological roles of mushrooms. Some varieties act as decomposers. In forests they break down dead organic matter so plants can reuse it, otherwise forests would be covered in mile-high piles of leaf litter. Fungi are resilient in their search for ways to survive. The field of mycoremediation, in which mushrooms are trained to eat new types of food, studies varieties as they’re used to break down pollutants such as spilled oil. Species have been formulated to break down fecal chloroforms in ponds near factory farms.

Many varieties release properties that are antibiotic, antifungal, antivirus, and antiparasitic. The versatile turkeytail mushroom has been sued by Japanese researchers to create cancer-fighting drugs, and the variety’s mycelium is being used to create molds for car parts and packaging materials.

Supermarkets and salad bars sell white button mushrooms which can be consumed raw, but Olga recommends all mushrooms be cooked, simply because they’ll taste better. The chitin element, like a shrimp’s exoskeleton, breaks down during cooking, and varieties contain elements we can’t absorb without heating them.

Olga had dozens of mushroom samples spread out on a table and passed them around. Collecting and identifying mushrooms is a sensory experience and touch and smell are important. Elements like spore color, veils, gill and stalk attachment, tubes, spines, teeth, and pores can all be used to identify. Some mushrooms are annuals while others are perennials. Some glow in the dark and others can be used to dye fabric. We passed around a variety of tinder conk, like caveman Otzi was carrying, and could feel the sample’s density. Olga recounted the story of a friend who, after accidentally leaving a tinder conk variety in the oven for too long, submerged the burned mushroom in water and tossed it in the trash. The mushroom continued to smolder and the trash can lit on fire. The apartment soon followed. Olga cautioned attendees to avoid mushrooms not grown in the U.S., specifically dried varieties that may be full of heavy metals which are absorbed like a sponge. Since common names vary, learning Latin names is important.

Olga owns and operates Smugtown mushrooms in Rochester, NY and has been cultivating mushrooms for six years, an interest that spiraled from research in wild plant medicine. She encouraged beginners to join a mushroom club and attend workshops. Comprehensive resources can be found through and the North American Mycological Association.

Smugtown Mushrooms:

$5 film fest

10 films for $5 = a super deal. This year was my second attending the Manhattan Short film festival at nearby SUNY Orange in Newburgh, a global festival featured 10 finalists narrowed down from over 600 submissions. The contest screened across six continents from September 28, 2017-October, 8, 2017 with 146 venues in the U.S. Finalists ranged from Do No Harm, a 12-minute gory fight to the death in an operating room, to Just Go!, a romantic and heroic tale of a man who lost his legs in a childhood accident. In Fickle Bickle a plumber takes over a client’s luxurious home to seduce a gold digger, and Mare Nostrum illustrates how a Syrian father’s reckless treatment of his daughter prepares her for the chance at a better life.  

Attendees use their ballots to vote for a favorite film and favorite actor. My favorite work was Viola, Franca, a 15-minute true story of an Italian woman rebelling against her community’s tradition that dictates she marry her rapist in 1965 Sicily. The young woman, a virgin before she was raped, refused a "rehabilitating marriage," a tradition that not only prevented her from losing her “honor,” but enabled her rapist to have his crime extinguished.

Winners are revealed after votes from all over the world are counted. The winning film of 2017 was 8 Minutes, an almost 13-minute film from the country of Georgia, about an aging magician and a countdown to the end of Earth’s daylight.

Film lovers can connect through Manhattan Short’s online features like contestant entry info, DVD shop, viewer reaction videos, and a forum for thoughts and opinions about the featured films.

Manhattan Short: